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The VolunTourist™ is a premium Newsletter for the Travel Trade. For those interested in discovering what is happening in the world of VolunTourism™ and seeking emerging practices, general information, and case studies, this is your Source.

Volume 5 Issue 4 Highlights



Innovators & Innovation: The Pillars of VolunTourism's Global Expansion in Decade 2.0

"The most important skill to practice is questioning," wrote Jeffrey H. Dyer, Hal B. Gregersen, and Clayton M. Christensen in an article entitled "The Innovator's DNA: Five 'Discovery Skills' Separate True Innovators From the Rest of Us," which appeared in the December 2009 issue of Harvard Business Review. Count on the fact that these 'Discovery Skills' will play an instrumental role in the success of the people, providers, publications, and places that will most likely influence VolunTourism in Decade 2.0.

The "Discovery Skills" At A Glance

Dyer, Gregersen, and Christensen introduce us to the practices of innovators by sharing five of what they have identified as "Discovery Skills" in "The Innovator's DNA." After interviewing numerous CEOs to discover the habits of the most innovative, the trio has culled the list to five items:

  • Discovery Skill 1: Associating - "Associating, or the ability to successfully connect seemingly unrelated questions, problems, or ideas from different fields is central to the innovator's DNA."
  • Discovery Skill 2: Questioning - "More than 50 years ago, Peter Drucker described the power of provocative questions. 'The important and difficult job is never to find the right answers, it is to find the right question.,' he wrote. Innovators constantly ask questions that challenge common wisdom, or as Tata Group chairman Ratan Tata puts it, 'question the unquestionable.'"
  • Discovery Skill 3: Observing - "Discovery-driven executives produce uncommon business ideas by scrutinizing common phenomena, particularly the behavior of potential customers."
  • Discovery Skill 4: Experimenting - "Like scientists, innovative entrepreneurs actively try out new ideas by creating prototypes and launching pilots."
  • Discovery Skill 5: Networking - "Devoting time and energy to finding and testing ideas through a network of diverse individuals gives innovators a radically different perspective."

{Source: Harvard Business Review, December 2009}

And the greatest of these? "Questioning." The questions we hope to address for this piece are:

  • Who are the individuals most likely to influence VolunTourism in Decade 2.0?
  • What Voluntourism providers should we pay attention to during this same period?
  • What publications could enhance our understanding of VolunTourism in Decade 2.0?
  • What destinations could possibly assume a leading role in developing VolunTourism in Decade 2.0? 

[Please note: The following is not an exhaustive list. The people, places, providers, and publications represented here are only a small subset of a greater whole. Think someone has been overlooked? Feel free to submit your suggestions or comments to: voluntourist[at]voluntourism.org.]

People Watch

Shannon Wentworth

As co-founder of Sweet, a lesbian travel company headquartered in Emeryville, California, Shannon has made 'doing good' a priority for this brand from its inception. As we enter the new decade, watch for the Sweet Team to incorporate voluntary service activities into their cruises worldwide, and in the process you may very well see other cruise-based companies following Sweet's lead.

Stephen Wearing

From the University of Technology Sydney, Dr. Wearing has made great strides in recognizing volunteer tourism as a form of alternative tourism. His insights began appearing in academic journals in the 90's and throughout the 00's, including the publication of his book, Volunteer Tourism: Experiences That Make A Difference. But, his real contribution will be seen in Decade 2.0 through the talented young people he has instructed and inspired through his years as a professor at UTS.

Brianna Castillo

As Director of Partnership Marketing at Westfield, this three-time voluntourist, who was also featured in the December 2009 issue of Glamour Magazine, will begin to exercise her power as a social intrapreneur in Decade 2.0. We will be watching Westfield, and Westfield's partners for that matter, to see how the brand responds to her growing commitment to VolunTourism.

Luc LaPointe

Mr. LaPointe has a vision - a savings fund for travelers, voluntourists included. To enhance the sustainability of tourism, especially in developing destinations, he sees the tremendous value of creating a pooled savings account for travelers and those interested in contributing to offsetting the expenses of said travelers. The monetary interest generated can be directed, for example, to microfinance ventures to improve the energy efficiency of lodges in a given destination. Intending to leverage billions of dollars, as a windmill does wind, Mr. LaPointe's model should be something to watch over the next ten years.

Others You Might Want To Watch

  • Helen Scalia, former Program Director for Rural LISC, and community development corporation consultant
  • Dr. Larry Beck, Professor, and Dr. Jess Ponting, Assistant Professor, in the Recreation & Tourism Management Program at San Diego State University
  • Dr. Angela Benson, Professor, Founding Chair ATLAS (Association for Tourism & Leisure Education) Volunteer Tourism Research Group University Of Brighton School of Service Management

Provider Watch

Hands Up Holidays

Christopher Hill has given us some great quotes over the years: "Voluntourism is not martyrdom" and 'Adventures That Count' as examples. But it was one of his first quotes, 'travel with a taste of volunteering' that summed up the voluntourism adventures he launched back in 2003 as Hands Up Holidays. In Decade 2.0, we should look for continued efforts on the part of Hands Up Holidays to deliver more and more sustainable projects and unique connections with communities around the world in a manner that is in keeping with responsible tourism guidelines.


Started as the philanthropic arm of G.A.P. Adventures, Planeterra is fast-becoming the 'go to' voluntourism outfitter for other adventure companies as well. And this is what we want to watch in Decade 2.0. In particular, how will Team Planeterra handle the transition from sole-source provider to a multiple-provider network? If the breadth and depth of experience of their team is an indication of their innovative potential, we should see a relatively smooth transition and certainly one worth paying attention to over the coming years.

PEPY Tours

If there is one thing that the PEPY Team knows, it's questioning. Over the years, I have been especially impressed with the tenacity with which PEPY Founder, Daniela Papi has asked the tough questions - and most of these have been directed at herself, no less. It is the power of questioning that will continue to drive the innovative thinking and approach that PEPY takes in Decade 2.0. Any questions?

Students Today Leaders Forever (STLF)

Unless you are under the age of 25, you probably don't even know about this NGO out of Minneapolis, Minnesota. So why are they on the 'Watch List'? Two reasons. First, Greg Tehven, one of the founders of the organization is stepping down this year and handing the bulk of his responsibility to co-founder Irene K. Fernando. Leadership changes are significant, yet they can lead to innovation with the influx of new talent. And this organization has been able to draw some extraordinary talent into its fold over the years. Still this will be something to watch. Reason number two: STLF currently moves about 2,000 young people each year through its U.S.-based tours. In Decade 2.0, these same young people will be looking at other voluntourism outfitters to meet their needs post-STLF. Will your program be prepared to handle the expectations generated from STLF experiences? You may find out over the next ten years.

Others You Might Want To Watch...

Place Watch

South Africa

Okay. We already know this is the host-nation for the 2010 World Cup. But, and you may not know this, South Africa is one of the first destinations taking a serious look at 'regulating' voluntourism providers. As of this writing, self-regulation is what guides the integrity of voluntourism in the country. With providers such as Calabash Tours, Voluntours (South Africa), and People & Places compiling responsible-voluntourism guidelines, I would estimate that very early in Decade 2.0 we will see tourism boards in South Africa with a full-fledged set of guiding principles in place. The question, and what we will want to watch for is this: "Will a tourism board in South Africa begin to regulate voluntourism in the country?"


With 2012 on the horizon, we should see a growing interest in Mayan culture and civilization. Voluntourists are already regular visitors to Guatemala, but in the first years of the decade we should see more traffic to Guatemala. And when the world doesn't end in December 2012, still more voluntourists will be venturing to the destination. One group that you will want to watch are the folks at Global Heritage Fund. Their support of the archaelogical excavation of El Mirador will create another opportunity for voluntourists to experience some of the hidden cultural treasures of Guatemala.


This was not a difficult choice. Certainly the selection by the International Olympic Committee to host the Summer Games in Brazil in 2016 will increase visitation to the country, including the participation of Olympic voluntourists during the Games themselves. Yet, it is the growing potential of voluntourists to participate in voluntourism trips in both urban and rural settings throughout the country that will continue to expand in Decade 2.0. In addition, we should expect some innovation in the way NGOs address the depletion of the Amazon Rain Forest through support from voluntourists.

Others You Might Want To Watch...

  • India
  • The United States
  • Ireland
  • Argentina


When I asked individuals to send in their thoughts on what publications we should be looking to for innovation in Decade 2.0, I received a couple of recommendations. And here they are:

Clean Breaks: 500 New Ways To See The World, by Jeremy Smith and Richard Hammond.

Trust Agents, by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith

I myself will be reading The Art of Giving: Where The Soul Meets A Business Plan, by Charles Bronfman and Jeffrey R Solomon, to kick-off Decade 2.0. Here is a quote from James Wolfensohn who inked the Foreward:

Final Thoughts

This was a difficult task, not so much because of who, what, where, is on the 'Watch List,' but because of the limitations of even crafting such a list in the first place. It was an important exercise because it really made me think about innovation and the 'Discovery Skills' that Dyer, Gregersen, and Christensen mention. And the greatest of these is questioning. So I ask: "Who, What, Where did I miss?"

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